<i>In The News:</i> The Political Leanings of Rare Book Users, Borders Enters E-Book Market

- by Michael Stillman

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Borders is selling Sony's e-reader.


By Michael Stillman

An organization known as the Primary Research Group recently took a look at the political leanings of university faculty who use rare book rooms or historic document collections. The results were surprising, or at least counterintuitive. One might expect more conservative faculty to be using these more traditional resources, while the liberal members would be focused on modern, higher technology sources. Instead, when faculty of various political leanings were asked whether they had used rare book and document collections in the past three years, the following percentages of each group responded affirmatively:

Left of liberal: 18%
Liberal: 12%
Middle of the Road: 10.5%
Conservative: 5.15%
Right of Conservative: 0%

Why does usage of historic collections break out this way and what does it mean? I'd be glad to hear any explanations, as I have no idea. It might be a bit troubling to rare book librarians that the group one might expect to form a base of support for traditional resources seems to make so little use of their services. Perhaps the overall numbers may be even more telling. Apparently, only around 10% of faculty has made use of these facilities at all during the past 3 years. I would assume the percentages are much higher for using computer resources, or the campus coffee shop for that matter. In days of limited budgets, facilities with a small amount of use are likely to be most at risk.

That risk was recently displayed at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library in Ohio. A total of 17 library staff members have opted for early retirement as the system pares its budget. The workers had been at the library between 19 and 43 years, most 30+. Included was Mike Lora, curator of the rare books collection.

America' second leading bookstore chain, Borders Group, announced that it was jumping into the e-book business through a newly formed supplier, Kobo. Kobo was recently spun off by Canada's largest book retailer, Indigo Books and Music. Indigo retains a 58% stake in the new company. Readers will be able to access 2 million titles available from Kobo through the Borders website. In a news release, Borders CEO Ron Marshall was quoted as saying, "As retailers who welcome thousands to our bookstores each day, Indigo and Borders share a belief that the future of bookselling will include both bricks and mortar and digital options." He also commented, "Borders is pleased to join with other investors who share Kobo's vision for any book on any device." "Any device" is an interesting comment, as both bookselling leader Amazon and top retail chain Barnes and Noble have introduced their own electronic readers. Borders is not designing such a device but rather is selling Sony readers in their stores.